Riley County commissioners have pushed back its decision to either uphold, restrict, or lessen the governor’s statewide mask ordinance to next week.
That means the governor’s executive order remains the order residents must follow in public places, at least through the weekend, and presumably for the next week.
Riley County Health Officer Julie Gibbs recommended the commission uphold the governor’s executive order or adopt a more restrictive mandate. Gibbs cited an influx of young people testing positive recently and surges tied to Aggieville and K-State. The commission opted to wait for input from municipalities including the City of Manhattan, which meets Tuesday and has the largest concentration of county residents. Once Manhattan has decided on how it will proceed, the county will follow suit with action, presumably at its Thursday meeting.
Commissioner Ron Wells the governor’s ordinance is overreaching by telling people what they can and cannot do. He wasn’t comfortable making a decision till after the Manhattan City commission has made theirs, since they will deal with a large portion of the county.
“I think masks are a good idea, but I think that the governor’s order is going a little bit far right now, but I’m willing to observe it and come back and make a decision next week,” he said.
Wells says the future of this virus is a little too uncertain at this point. While he doesn’t want to force people to wear a mask, Wells says those who don’t want to can stay home. He also says those who choose not to wear a mask cannot force their way into a business that does require them.
Commissioner John Ford says he would prefer more local control when it comes to these kinds of ordinances.
“I think we can do whatever we need to do better locally than something that’s hammered out this way so broad and so cumbersome and there’s not really any kind of end game,” he said.
Input was received on both sides of the issue. Flint Hills Wellness Coalition Director Debbie Nuss spoke in favor of the governor’s executive order and urged the commission to uphold it.
“Our reasons are the same as those that the coalition made to the Manhattan City Commission and are supported by many medical professionals, community organizations and citizens,”
Nuss pointed to recent comments by Commission Chair Marvin Rodriguez, who was absent from Thursday’s meeting about citizens having a constitutional right whether or not to wear a mask in public settings. She says the county commission has an “ethical responsibility” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by upholding the governor’s order.
“To do otherwise means you are willfully, knowingly and deliberately putting the health of Riley County citizens at risk,” she said.
Manhattan defense attorney Brenda Jordan recommended commissioners opt out of the executive order, calling it a personal rights issue. Jordan says masks are not as significant of a deterrent as health professionals are saying, according to studies she has read.
“At some point, we have to start letting people make their personal choices, uphold their constitutional rights to make that,” she said.
Jordan pointed to last year’s 10th Circuit Court of appeals ruling that allows women the option to go topless in Manhattan public spaces.
“I could walk in this building topless (not that I would). but there’s a 10th Circuit case that tells you that you can’t tell me I can’t,” she said. “But you’re now trying to tell me I have to a put a mask on my face to be out in public? To be some place that I can’t be six feet away from other people?”
Jordan says the county will feel an economic impact if the mask rule were adopted, saying she and others will shop elsewhere, spending sales tax dollars in locales where the ordinance is less enforced.
Commissioners opted to take no action Thursday, which means the governor’s order remains in effect as written until the county rules next week.
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